If I had a dollar for how many times any given Liberal politician says the phrase “Stop the Boats”.
Refugees and Asylum seekers are back in the spotlight after Julia Gillard has come up with her “Malaysia Solution” — which isn’t going to help anything.
Of all the myth, the legend, the sheer fabrication that gets thrown around in the discourse over refugee and assylum seeker, the most damaging, the most disturbing of the lot remains the belief that John Howard “stopped the boats”.
During the period towards the end of John Howard’s esteemed leadership of this fine country, that is, between 2002 and 2005 there was a global reduction in the number of refugees.
According to the UNHCR, the total number of people of concern fell from 20.8 million people in 2002 to 19.4 million in 2004. The total number of refugees fell from 10.6 million to 9.2 million people. During the period between 2002 and 2004, the global population of refugees dropped by 24%.
During that same period Germany (35 610) recorded its lowest number of arrivals in a decade, United States (52 360) and Switzerland (14 250) recorded the lowest arrival of assylum seekers since 1987 and The Netherlands (9 780) recorded its lowest arrival of applicants since 1988.
Why was this?
Because during this period the situation in Iraq, Serbia and Montenegro and Afghanistan, was largely improving. These are places where large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers originated. It was only in the following years that things started to get messy again, in a wide variety of places.
During this period John Howard’s Pacific Solution was in full swing. It was claimed the hard-line treatment of asylum seekers, termed “boat people”, had “stopped the boats”. Apparently it still is. If not an outright lie, I’d say dishonest was a fair assesment.
John Howard never stopped the boats. He just took credit for a global trend, and that point is emphasised by the very fact the countries which also experienced a reduction in arrivals have implemented systems which were much less restrictive than the “pacific solution” under Howard.
What has caused an substantial increase in the number of people seeking assylum in this court is a change in situation. The brutal crackdown on protests in Iran, Burma and Thailand. The crushing of the Tamil Tigers in Shri Lanka, increased the numbers of people who may seek to escape repression. The conflicts started by Australia and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, as they dragged on over a period of a decade and resistance began to mount, have caused more people to leave.
So, yeah, there is going to be an increase. at. some. point. (i.e. right now)
The discourse is only going to become more polticised over the next few months and all those people with their stories and the real, present danger to their lives, will be forgotten beneath the figures, labels and hard-line rhetoric as political parties try to pander to the right-wing nationalist tendencies that have become, to some extent, normalised.
As much as I’d like to think people might cut the crap, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.